Category Archives: Uncategorized

Day 3 – Search

As IT pro’s, we find ourselves searching for many things. We search for solutions. We search for truth (both regular and capital-T truth). Most of those things we either have a good chance of locating, as long as we’re persistent and intelligent about it.
But one of the searches that many (if not all) IT pro’s undertake is the search for the right fit in their job.
Forums, job boards, and advice columns – not to mention innumerable after-work-over-beer discussions – are filled with tales of horrific bosses, harrowing workplaces, and hideous jobs.
If there were easy answers, they’d be out there already. After 30 years, the only wisdom I can give is this: it’s the same as any other problem. You have to be persistent. You have to be smart. You have to be willing to abandon your pre-conceived notions and start over – again and again if necessary. You have to accept that the solution which worked for another person in another place may not be your solution.
And sometimes the search has to be given up for now, with the trust that you’ll take it up again another day when you are fresh and ready to try again.

Respect Your Elders

This post originally appeared on SolarWinds GeekSpeak

“Oh Geez,” exclaimed the guy who sits 2 desks from me, “that thing is ancient! Why would they give him that?”

Taking the bait, I popped my head over the wall and asked “what is?”

He showed me a text message, sent to him from a buddy—an engineer (EE, actually) who worked for an oil company. My co-worker’s iPhone 6 displayed an image of a laptop we could only describe as “vintage”:

(A Toshiba Tecra 510CDT, which was cutting edge…back in 1997.)

“Wow.” I said. “Those were amazing. I worked on a ton of those. They were serious workhorses—you could practically drop one from a 4 story building and it would still work. I wanted one like nobody’s business, but I could never afford it.”

“OK, back in the day I’m sure they were great,” said my 20-something coworker dismissively. “But what the hell is he going to do with it NOW? Can it even run an OS anymore?”

I realized he was coming from a particular frame of reference that is common to all of us in I.T. Newer is better. Period. With few exceptions (COUGH-Windows M.E.-COUGH), the latest version of something—be it hardware or software—is always a step up from what came before.

While true, it leads to a frame of mind that is patently un-true: a belief that what is old is also irrelevant. Especially for I.T. Professionals, it’s a dangerous line of thought that almost always leads to un-necessary mistakes and avoidable failures.

In fact, ask any I.T. pro who’s been at it for a decade, and you’ll hear story after story:

  • When programmers used COBOL, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the fundamental techniques that were drilled into their heads was, “check your inputs.” Thinking about the latest version of exploits, be they an SSLv3 thing like ‘Poodle’, or a SQL injection, or any of a plethora of web based security problems, the fundamental flaw is the server NOT checking its inputs, for sanity.
  • How about the OSI model? Yes, we all know its required knowledge for many certification exams (and at least one IT joke). But more importantly, it was (and still is) directly relevant to basic network troubleshooting.
  • Nobody needs to know CORBA database structure anymore, right? Except that a major monitoring tool was originally developed on CORBA and that foundation has stuck. Which is why, if you try to create a folder-inside-a-folder more than 3 times, the entire system corrupts. CORBA (one of the original object-oriented databases) could only handle 3 levels of object containership.
  • Powershell can be learned without understanding the Unix/Linux command line concepts. But, it’s sure EASIER to learn if you already know how to pipe ls into grep into awk into awk so that you get a list of just the files you want, sorted by date. That technique (among other Unix/Linux concepts) was one of the original goals of Powershell.
  • Older rev’s of industrial motion-control systems used specific pin-outs on the serial port. The new USB-to-Serial cables don’t mimic those pin-outs correctly, and trying to upload a program with the new cables will render the entire system useless.

And in fact, that’s why my co-worker’s buddy was handed one of those venerable Tecra laptops. It had a standard serial port and it was preloaded with the vendor’s DOS-based ladder-logic programming utility. Nobody expected it to run Windows 10, but it fulfilled a role that modern hardware simply couldn’t have done.

It’s an interesting story, but you have to ask: aside from some interesting anecdotes and a few bizarre use-cases, does this have any relevance to our work day-today?

You bet.

We live in a world where servers, storage, and now the network is rushing toward a quantum singularity of virtualization.

And the “old-timers” in the mainframe team are laughing their butts off as they watch us run in circles, inventing new words to describe techniques they learned at the beginning of their career; making mistakes they solved decades ago; and (worst of all) dismissing everything they know as utterly irrelevant.

Think I’m exaggerating? SAN and NAS look suspiciously like DASD, just on faster hardware. Services like Azure and AWS, for all their glitz and automation, aren’t as far from rented time on a mainframe as we’d like to imagine. And when my company replaces my laptop with a fancy “appliance” that connects to Citrix VDI session, it reminds me of nothing as much as the VAX terminals I supported back in the day.

My point isn’t that I’m a techno-Ecclesiastes shouting “there is nothing new under the sun!” Or some I.T. hipster who was into the cloud before it was cool. My point is that it behooves us to remember that everything we do, and every technology we use, had its origins in something much older than 20 minutes ago.

If we take the time to understand that foundational technology we have the chance to avoid past mis-steps, leverage undocumented efficiencies built into the core of the tools, and build on ideas elegant enough to have withstood the test of time.

#BlogElul Day 5: Accept

Larry Wall (creator of the Perl programming language) famously said, “Most of you are familiar with the virtues of a programmer. There are three, of course: laziness, impatience, and hubris.”

In one brilliantly succinct phrase, Mr. Wall took three traits commonly understood to be a character flaw and re-framed them as virtues.

As I sat and thought about how acceptance is generally seen as a positive trait in life, I realized that in IT it could be just the opposite.

Accepting the status quo, that the system “is what it is”, that things are (or aren’t) changing (or staying the same) and there is nothing that we can do to affect that… all of these are anti-patterns which do us no good.

As I sat and pondered it in the wee hours of the morning, I heard the voice of Master Yoda whisper in my ear:

NOT accepting leads to curiosity
Curiosity leads to hacking
hacking leads to discover
discovery leads to innovation
innovation leads to growth

When we refused to accept, we grow.

Bringing this back around to personal growth, I think there is a time and place when refusing to accept – our perceived limitations, our place (whether that’s in the org chart, or in society at large), our past failures, etc. When we refuse to permit those external forces to define or limit us – that is when we find the path toward personal growth.

Walking Away

Walk_Away___LiE_by_Shraka
I deleted my Facebook account today. I didn’t just close that tab in my browser; I didn’t go on a 5 day “technology cleanse”; I didn’t suspend my account.

(You may now clutch your pearls and gasp dramatically. I’ll wait.)

Now that your shock and horror have passed, I wanted to explain why, and why this is not an act worth emulating, and why it is absolutely something I think you should consider emulating.

First the boring reasons:

  • My original reason for getting onto Facebook was to keep track of my kids. They aren’t on Facebook any more (possibly because I *am*.)
  • Meanwhile, I found myself spending an inordinate time hitting “refresh” waiting for something interesting to show up.
  • When something interesting DOES show up that I want to comment on, it fails the 3-point checklist I use to keep me from embarrassing myself (more than usual):
    • Is it kind?
    • Is it true?
    • Is it necessary for me to respond?

AND THEN there’s the whole privacy piece, which has been recently (and in my opinion, best) summarized here. Reading my texts? NSA impersonation? data leaks? Fraud? It’s a security hit-parade.

I’ll have to admit, the whole ‘turning on my microphone when I’m doing a status update” thing is just a step too far for me. I deleted the FB app off all my mobile devices immediately.

And then this announcement that FB is selling my information to advertisers. Taken on its own, this would be a yawner. But for me it was one in a growing list of concerns.

I am completely clear that FB isn’t the only offender. The other social media platforms have similar problems. In fact, it’s still worth having the discussion on whether “social media” should come with any illusions of privacy at all. But FB currently seems to have the most egregious flaws. And (for me at least) very few benefits.

That’s not going to be true for everyone. When I made the announcement that I would be shutting down my account, many people told me they couldn’t survive (read “stay in touch”, “keep up to date”, or even “while away the boring hours before/after/during work”) without it.

And that’s fine. My decision to delete my Facebook account is not something you should feel compelled to emulate.

On the other hand, FB is acting less like a social media platform and more like a corporate entity looking to monetize any way they can. I don’t begrudge them that, and I appreciate the fact that they made an announcement about selling my information. This time. Because people are looking.

It’s clear that Facebook is really not interested in your privacy in any meaningful way, and as a user you simply can’t expect it.

So, while this isn’t an action you should feel compelled to emulate, you may want to consider it never the less.

If you haven’t visited in a while, or if you are following a link looking for one of my old documents, you may be asking yourself  “where did everything go?”

In a word, I got focused.

AdatoSystems has always been a “me, myself and I” operation, and the website has therefore always focused on whatever it is that I was focused on. Since I split my time fairly evenly between the completely-not-overlapping areas of systems monitoring and automation on the one hand, and website design and monitoring on the other, the website has always suffered from a bit of an identity crisis.

While it didn’t bother me too much, it was increasingly confusing to my customers. The old logo – highly monitoring-centric – was just a bit overwhelming to my website customers. And my blog comment was almost entirely related to web design, which left out people who came here looking for monitoring ideas.

 

To resolve this, I created two sub-sites, each dedicated to it’s specific area of focus. There is monitoring.adatosystems.com (focused on monitoring, of course). And the site devoted to web design is named, aptly enough, webdesign.adatosystems.com.

This original site, www.adatosystems.com, remains, and will be the place I post some of my more generic (or esoteric) ideas.

Everything will link back to the social media you are probably using to following me anyway – my Twitter feedFacebook page and LinkedIn profile.

So look for more monitoring articles to appear on the Monitoring and Webdesign subsites in the coming days and weeks. I’ll be moving some of the old stuff from the main site that belongs here, as well as generating brand new content for you to enjoy.

What’s the heaviest load you can carry? How much work can you handle before you crack?

I need to shift gears for a minute and talk about something personal. If you don’t feel like reading about me gushing about my family, it’s time to click “Next”.

I really love my kids. All (4) of them. They do some amazing, funny, incredible, funny, interesting, and funny things. And they’re funny, too.

But recently one of them has done a few things that are amazing enough that I had to comment on it. I’m well aware that she hates being publicly acknowledged (she takes after her Mother, rather than me) so she’s going to hate this. And you know what? Tough.

Let’s start with her committment to education. Back in the summer before eighth grade, she decided that public school wasn’t for her. That’s not unique. Lots of 13 year olds say “school sucks”. But her reasons were a little different: It went too slow, the kids were (generally) too unfocused, and she felt she could get more done on her own. So, for her eight-grade year she basically home-schooled herself, with light supervision from my wife and I. And it worked. She rocked through the year, usually in less hours per day or week than school would have taken. She was happier, she had learned more, and everyone was happy.

While she stopped homeschooling and moved to an online school the following year, she still enjoyed a level of freedom and control over her schoolwork that few kids get to experience.

The net result? Here at the end of her 11th grade year she has exactly one credit left in order to complete High School. And that’s after taking just one credit this year. She had all but completed high school in 2 years.

She held back those two credits because my state has a “Post Secondary Education Option”, which means it will pay the tuition if high school kids go to college before graduation. So this year, at the tender age of 16, she also enrolled in her first set of freshman courses at a local college and took more-or-less a full load of classes. By the time she graduations from high school, she will have 2 years of college also under her belt.

Honestly though, lots of kids do that around here – dozens, if not hundreds. If that was all, I’d be proud but I wouldn’t be writing this post.

During this past year my daughter also got a job, at a local bakery. She liked to bake at home, and thought she could leverage that interest into work that didn’t make her want to gouge her eyes out with a happy meal toy. It was a good job, and my daughter learned a lot and had a good time in the process.

Then the owner of the bakery went in for a routine medical exam and the doctor found a lump near his kidneys. Suddenly he was looking at surgery and several weeks of recovery, and nobody at the bakery to cover during that time.

So, for the next two weeks, my daughter went in to work at 4:00am to learn all the recipes. And for 2 months after that, she was the baker. She didn’t run the store – there were other adults that handled the books and billing and such. And the rest of the back-room staff were still there to do their jobs. But every morning it was my daughter who came in and lit the ovens, maintained the inventory, mixed the ingredients, rolled out the cakes and breads and cookies, tested and approved the results before it moved to the front to be sold.

For two and a half months, she ran herself from 4am until 9pm, working the bakery, catching classes at college, going back to the bakery, then coming home to study and write reports and attend her one high school class. All so a man she had only recently met would have a business to come back to after he recovered from having a 2.25lb cancerous mass removed from his back.

During that time, if you asked her about it, you’d get her trademark shrug, a “whatever”, and then she would tell you how the cake decorator threw flour at her this morning in retaliation for the prank she pulled on him the day before.

Then came the crash. The bakery stayed open late into the night one weekend, and everyone was on hand to deal with the anticipated flood of customers. What they didn’t anticipate was a car coming through the front of the store. Nobody was hurt, and in the end the store didn’t even lose a single cupcake. But having a 2002 Mercury come through a plate glass window can be unsettling, to say the least. Some of the staff was so shaken up they had to go home. But, according to the adults who were there, my daughter was unflappable. She moved between  tasks – pulling bread out of the oven before it overcooked; moving product away from the broken glass; finding boxes and buckets for the cleanup; ringing up sales for customers who  were undaunted by the damage and still wanted their two loaves of rye, sliced if possible.

For a grizzled old jaded adult, there are things to be learned in all of this.

  • Working harder today does not always mean you earned the punishment of having to work harder again tomorrow. Sometimes it means you get to do what you want tomorrow.
  • If your values say “yes”, it should always trump your fear saying “no”
  • Don’t underestimate yourself, don’t overestimate the challenge, and don’t overthink the situation.

Yesterday, she reached another milestone. At 17 she took her last final, and simultaneously completed her junior year of high school and her freshman year of  college. I don’t think she’s going to pull straight-A’s this year. I believe there will be a “B” or two in the mix.

In this case, I’m not inclined to sweat the small stuff.

My friend Doug over at asknice.com sent me this link:
http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/000932.html

I went out and bought the book. It’s a good read. Not exactly life changing, but potentially habit changing or perception affirming, depending on how you do/look at things to begin with.

Here’s one of the key ideas that I thought was relevant to “IT people”:

Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

Nor can you bully a subordinate into becoming a genius.

Since the modern, scientifically-conceived corporation was invented in the early half of the Twentieth Century, creativity has been sacrificed in favor of forwarding the interests of the “Team Player”.

Fair enough. There was more money in doing it that way; that’s why they did it.

There’s only one problem. Team Players are not very good at creating value on their own. They are not autonomous; they need a team in order to exist.

So now corporations are awash with non-autonomous thinkers.

“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”

And so on.

Creating an economically viable entity where lack of original thought is handsomely rewarded creates a rich, fertile environment for parasites to breed. And that’s exactly what’s been happening. So now we have millions upon millions of human tapeworms thriving in the Western World, making love to their Powerpoint presentations, feasting on the creativity of others.

What happens to an ecology, when the parasite level reaches critical mass?

The ecology dies.

If you’re creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can override the fear of being wrong, then your company needs you now more than it ever did. And now your company can no longer afford to pretend that isn’t the case.

So dust off your horn and start tooting it. Exactly.

However if you’re not particularly creative, then you’re in real trouble. And there’s no buzzword or “new paradigm” that can help you. They may not have mentioned this in business school, but… people like watching dinosaurs die.

There are so many reasons why I like Indexed. This post is just another example.

 Robert Fulgham wrote a great piece (OK, I happen to think he’s written *a lot* of great pieces) on creativity and how limited we believe we are as we get older. You can find it here (not Mr. Fulgham’s site, but the quickest link I could find), but here’s one of the relevant parts:
Ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you can draw?” and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw—all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not!How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let’s dance! Now? Sure, why not?

Do you like to act in plays? Yes! Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning that stuff now.

Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.

Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: “I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower.”

When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act. You can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an older audience. The answer: No, none of the above.

What went wrong between kindergarten and college?

What happened to YES! of course I can?

What happened indeed? Tell you what. If you promise to start creating, I promise to be excited and supportive and unjudgemental.
Go ahead. I’ll watch.

Your web site.

FWIW, IMHO, Caveate Emptor, YMMV, Objects may be closer than they appear, etc etc etc.

I’ve been building web sites as an amature for over 14 years now. Being a new member here, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and observations about blogs and websites in general . Based on what I’ve been doing and building lately, here are some (semi organized) thoughts:

First and foremost, think “channels”, not “flyers”. Web-based communication is not like publishing a flyer or newsletter. Or even like a daily newspaper. It’s more like being your own media conglomerate. The idea is to leverage as many different channels of communication and let the consumer decide which works best. Some of my readers like to receive twitter updates to their “dumb” phone. Others prefer facebook messages on their smartphone. Still others want new posts to appear in their RSS feedreader. Many will want an email in their inbox. The point is that none of these methods are wrong, and you CAN manage all of them without losing yourself into a digital circle of hell. As long as you have a plan.

That having been said:

  1. Everything you do should lead back to your web site – that one place on the internet that contains the heart of what you are doing. If you are a consultant, it’s the place where people get your service listing and rates. If you are a writer, it’s where people can get your resume and samples. You get the point.
  2. (Almost) Everything you do should not only LEAD back there, but it should be created IN ORDER TO bring the reader there. If you are writing a guest column, make sure you at least get a mention of your site, if not direct links back to it. Don’t post main articles or content anywhere else. Post it on your site and then link from other places back there. Etc.
  3. If you publish a newsletter (whether physical or electronic), consider publishing only PART of the article, with a “click here to read more”.
  4. Cross-post! Very few people are going to read your archives list (you DO have a link to your archives, don’t you?!?!). More people will look at your “top xx posts” list (and I’m SURE you have that on your sidebar, RIGHT?!?!). But if you reference your other posts within the post they are reading, those links are just screaming to be read.
  5. Cross-post (the sequel): Write guest bits for other bloggers. They will appreciate the additional content as much as you would, and you get an entirely new set of readers to see your stuff. I’ve found that even offering a repost of things that appear on my site is often deeply appreciated.
  6. Finally, whenever you create a link – whether it is to someone else’s site or your own internal stuff, use the _blank tag. This will open a new window or tab, which means your reader can get back to YOUR page without hitting the back button (which they never do). To use this, the format of the html looks like this:
    a href=”www.newsite.com” target=”_blank”

But the most important thing I’ve learned:
Create in one place, let tools disseminate. Nobody wants to have to remember to post to the blog, then create a twitter post about the blog post, and then create a similar post on Facebook. Then Stumble it. Or whatever.

This takes a bit of work, but you will be happy you did. A lot of these tricks rely on Feedburner. It’s not the only way, but recently feedburner added several features that make it VERY easy to do this stuff. Once again, caveate emptor.

  1. Make sure people can sign up for your blog via email. (in feedburner, you set this up under the “publicize” tab, then pick “email subscriptions”)
  2. As Heidi Cool writes about here, don’t hide your RSS feed.
  3. Equally true, don’t hide your Facebook account, Twitter link, LinkedIn profile, etc. Make sure that people who LIKE that stuff can connect to you via THEIR CHANNEL of choice.
  4. Make sure your blog automatically alerts Twitter about new posts (again in feedburner, you would look under the “publicize” tab. There is a “socialize” item that will let you add your Twitter account.)
  5. Set up Facebook to automatically pull in your Twitter updates. You can do that two ways:
    • if you ONLY use Twitter to promote your website, you can use this application.
    • if you post other things to twitter that you DON’T want to appear on Facebook, you can use the Selective Tweets Facebook app. Then the only things that go to Facebook are the ones you post with a #fb hashtag. Which Feedburner lets you add from it’s automatic repost to Twitter, by the way.
  6. Stumble is your friend. I’m not a big user of Stumble Upon (http://www.stumbleupon.com) but over half my hits now come from people finding my site. To add a “Stumble This” link using Feedburner, go to the Optimize Tab, “FeedFlare” option.

Hopefully this gives everyone something to chew on. To see some of these tricks at work, check out my blog (you KNEW I was going to add that somewhere, didn’t you?): http://www.edibletorah.com/.